Arcane XIII Death
By N.A. Jones
If I told you in plain day light, you would laugh and call me a bald face liar. The incredulous chatter would increase to a roar as you walked away. Despite the risk, I tell you these things on the eve of ten, when darkness is plain and even across my bone cheeks and chapped lips. Please note that the following tale is an act of repentance for deeds hidden from the sun’s burning rays. In this, I reveal my dire need to confess my blindness, folly, and forgetfulness since birth. The matter that counts is in braving the little embarrassments to tell the story not in relating the texture or color of the scenery. In this revealing, I ask you to suspend your dower need for facts, details, and orderliness of occasion. Instead, let the story meander in mood to encourage you towards a new direction of thought. At journey’s end, dawn will rise and the fog will dispense. At the end of this repose, I leave you in clarity to know the adventure was real no matter how ill timed and resolved in abandon.
The pain of being aware is so overwhelming that I cannot accurately convey how I suffer delusions. Come eight o’clock in the evening I smell death about my head. It lasts longer into the night as I lay down my head to drift off to sleep. The fear that I am about to die is so aggravating that I doubt I will wake in the light that haunts the edges of dreams and six o’clock alarms. The odor reminds me of my grandparent’s house. Those times, especially when in youth, I swore death lurked the corners and shades of every room. The scent is distinct. It dry point registers far up in the nose where the sinus cavities reach. It is a place as far away from wet as you can get under an Indian summer sun. In my memory, I roamed the corridors and rooms of Gran’dad’s house. While turning corners around furniture, my senses found the air acrid on the tongue and produced palms feeling crunchy with dry rot. Eventually, the burden to breathe under duress of stiff lungs could not overcome flesh seemingly poured through with formaldehyde.
Once I shut my bedroom door I realized a solemn space that looks over a decrepit steel mill on the opposite hillside and dirty river below. This delusion is Gran’dad’s inner sanctum layered over open eyes. Remembering his house as it sits motionless in my mind, I see it rest on a stone foundation. Turning to the left the vision continues, I see him sit up in a cushioned chair next to the piano. A right leg prosthesis balances on the bench to his left while a nylon sock curls over itself as he eases it over his knee to the stump. He was a diabetic and died of complications caused by the disease. I cringe with every blood test and urinalysis. Adult onset diabetes always has me on guard not to fall to an addict of sugar. Watching his hand massage the left stump, I suddenly wake from a trace remembering the other little deaths I anticipate finishing me through until death. These memories of him hurt down to the bone. One day I may be missing the same limbs. Right now, I am livid about practicing dancing around my bedroom in prosthesis. Diabetes crippling my joys, as well, is not what I want to bear under.
Some days being mindful of Gran’dad contorts my face and curls my hands. It is because the primary sense succumbs to an assortment of guilt and blame, nothing more. For some reason I covet the guilt. The pain it creates has become delicious and I start to secretly revel in my failings – cruelly so. Guilt is an action that warms me to defeat when I am afraid to succeed. Quietly I whisper to the wind that guilt normally warms me by swelling wide in my gut. Is fills every crevice taking away all normal hunger cravings. Correcting the temptation to suffer eventually rescues my psyche from an ever-abiding dull pain in my abdomen. Then I forget what tension I released from my torso to go emotionally blind for in an all-consuming abandon to escape hell pursued success – at least it plays out that way in my mind. Over the years, I tended to let guilt and history weigh my heart relentlessly. It is a trust issue and a burden of toxic shame that I have not exercised fully from my mind or body.
Tonight, I wake from darkness sullen. I wake to mindfulness to change. Intentional breath charges my freedom from consumption with sorrow of every memory I have of family genetics. After rising in the darkness, I see another illusion of Gran’dad’s house as I walk through my home. Right now, I feel comfort from beyond that moves me to survive passions and entanglements of blood family and old friendships. Furthermore, I am convinced that I will never be lonely in life nor abandoned when I meet death. For me, because of that scent, the veil is ever thin every day, especially as I sit quietly watching the sun shift around my bedroom. I reflect on the days when implicit joys of quiet succumbed to accusations of selfishness and suicidal tendencies. I never told the comfort of minding death and my ancestors. I tended to the grave then and the peace of Christ. I never knew how to tell without minding the white jacket and injections. I was happy. Now knowing fear in the slight just might dig the plot by my grandparents’ graves for rest. I crave quiet. I draw blood for silence. Time is a burden for Caesar not me. Aging is a plain faced illusion.
With no obligations, I woke before the sun rose. I dressed. I ate. I sat on the front porch musing starlight and felted cotton grey being patient and attentive above. At first light, I started my walk through the woods. Walking the cement path that winds Buffalo Ridge was the weekend habit after driving a two-hour commute five days a week. I knew the path’s curves and tree line growth by the creek bed. That day what I did not anticipate was the decapitated pigeon left dead on the path in the middle of the field. Walking up to the dead body, my instinct said it might be a warning – not necessarily for me, but others in the neighborhood. Gangs made up of youth and age fight by the creek’s shores and gamble in the drainage ditch.
I found the pigeon’s head separated from the body with the face turned to the left. No blood cascaded to form puddles. Extending from the neck, a ligament joining head to breast extended limp and crooked from the severed head. It looked like a clean snap and pull-much like what I envision farmer’s wives doing to Sunday chickens. Calming down, I began to be satisfied that the situation was contained. Still, I looked about trying to sight another pigeon. Seeing nothing, my heart swelled that a simple burial was in need. I ran to the house to find a plastic bag and a shovel. Pitching tools and windows inside in the shed was the last thing I did before remembering garbage pickup would drive by shortly. One prayer later and grey friar was gone.
This one small death and the front door of Gran’dad’s house loomed before me for three years. In the vision, I am already inside his home– safety now secured upon entering my home. My first thought in the calm was not to touch death again. Come five years later, I bed rocked my spirit to renew itself by pledging the Nazarene Creed. For me it was a matter of bridging loneliness and separation from God with activity. I was also raised a guard against plague by a spirit of violent death. Grey friar was not the last animal I saw that met violent ends. “Pearl Pureheart”, I met walking the railroad tracks. She was a blond bulldog with a cleanly severed head lying on the outside of the tracks. I still have not cried for her lost beauty and form. With every dead animal I see, I grieve a little prayer. Saint Francis may never leave me alone again. With the Creed, I abide by not cutting my hair. Secondly, I pledged not to touch the dead. There is something deeply ingrained in my soul concerning fears of the dead. My maternal grandmother’s soul was gone by the time I saw her in the coffin. Standing next to my mother at the viewing, I remember touching Gran’ma’s hand. In that moment, the pressure of mortality shifted. I went out to her and never fully returned to myself. Some long years afterward, I dreamed of unearthing her coffin to join her in finality. The insistence was not a matter of craving death. It was the last chance of knowing her. My mother’s anger and joy of her mother sit with me in a tattered pile of notes and photographs. For myself there is nothing to covet in place of her experience. When I intentionally searched my childhood, I unearthed memories that became sweet to my tongue, soothing pain from heartaches and acceptance into the family fold. Considering my mental state before and after her passing, I understand that conquering my fears of death’s veil became a personal conviction beginning in childhood. Some wisdom of God must have dictated the lessons important enough for her visage to visit me twice. As a result, I must take the time to note every occasion death makes itself known to me without claiming me from limb to mind.
At this age, I stare at moving shadows around my bedroom deep into the night before arriving at the foot of the witching hour. It is a chilling autumn night and I remember the beginnings of losing my innocence of the dark. At age eight, I found a cold spot in the bed by my feet. Even Gran’dad’s kindness of a full sized canopy bed was no protection from what I feared lingered in my room. Every time I see white polka dots on sheer mint green fabric, the demonizing starts over again. Ignorant of old wives’ tales, I did not know that a cold spot meant a spirit took home in my bed. When I worked up enough courage to look below the box spring, I found the pendulum set I had checked out of the gifted classroom the previous week. Pulling out the board, my mind drew wild conclusions. One of which was come Hell, demons, and the devil’s carriage, I was bound to the spirit world. The fears ended when a new bed in a new house replaced the cold spotted mattress.
I kept silent about the reoccurring cold spot terrors for years. At age ten, rebuffing my imagination once is all it took for me to shut up through graduate school. She did not understand how close I felt to the shades. One prayer or creative play with me may have ended disembodied souls tyranny in my mind. Familial kindnesses present themselves only for the sake of mourning and not for disturbing anyone’s mindset – no matter how delusional they are. “You are too emotional,” rings aloud through the corridors of everywhere I have lived. It is an echo that resounds only second to the sound that blood makes. Coming to the beginning of the wheel to turn, I wait again. I know now that I am older, I need no permission from my family and friends to demonstrate emotional need. Back then; asking for help was an unsaid forbidden. Now that I am looking towards middle age, I know I cried too few tears for my maternal grandmother and grandfather when they were alive and for their deaths. The well behind my eyes has grown dry with salt and air. Now I have no tears for anyone.
A deep-set ache for human touch made everything and everyone attractive. Despite being aware of foolishness embedded in this desperation, I fell in love. Some month of my sophomore year, come the crowning moon in a Prussian blue sky, the fascination with my love became an obsession. First, I must tell you that I do not practice necrophilia, nor am I a necromancer. Still, I found the anthropomorphization of Death a presence I could not turn away from easily. In the 1980’s Piers Anthony wrote a fantasy series titled The Incarnations of Immortality. Riding a Pale Horse was the first book. I fell for the main character Death just as quickly as the woman he courted did throughout the novel. Over the years, the book made a large impression on my subconscious. So much so, that I saw the image of the Great Reaper everywhere. Eventually Death’s image rode with me in the passenger’s seat every day I drove to and from work. Most mornings Death dressed me for home, work, and grocery shopping around town. Death slept in my bed every night. It is uncanny how the left side of the bed maintained a chill when I was mindful of presences other than my own. We never talked much, but there was a mutual understanding of care and companionship. One of the results of our intimacy was for me to respect Death as an individual who helped me to conceive comfort with the dead and their effects. As a teenager, still I had a difficult time coming to terms with my maternal grandmother and grandfather’s deaths. As a forty something adult, I still had not healed. Granma died before I turned nine. My grandfather passed when I was in high school. Both times, I was preoccupied with friends, homework, and rest. Because of my blinded youth and crippling selfishness, one of the biggest mistakes I made was never knowing the mark of child who cherished their elders when they were alive. Now I am livid at the emotive gap in understanding my mother’s experiences. I think of her parents and want to know of them through their eyes and experiences of the world.
Still, my emotional timing is terribly off. Despite the last opportunity I had to see and speak with them, there is no separation between us. Honestly, I do not sense they have gone anywhere. I swear Gran’dad is in the backroom of the house waiting for me to bring him dinner. Meanwhile, Gran’ma is sitting at the dining room table breathing shallowly through a facemask; one end attaches to her face, the other end wrapped around her left hand and hooks into an oxygen tank. Both apparitions are in need. For what, I do not know. Their voices would call out midday no matter where I am. I have wandered buildings before looking for the person calling my name repeatedly. No matter how many times I left my office and walked the building, I did not find them. However, upon returning to my office, I saw my family’s faces floating over my desk. After leaving that job, I have not seen my grandparents except once on the cusp of midnight on All Hallow’s Eve over ten years ago. The significance I learned from others. On the gentle end, a friend said that day is a holy day, if not the holiest day of the year. Its celebration marks the life passages of man even unto death. On that day, the barrier that separates us from death is the thinnest.
I had convulsions on October 31 for almost ten years. To manage before the pain in my head arrived, I began lying inert on the couch and mused myself by listening to children passing by and teenagers playing tricks on my front porch. Leaving the porch light off seemed the best way to bow out of the night’s festivities instead of embarrassing myself by being unresponsive. Every chance I tried holding out the candy bowl, I never was able to pull back from a trance that lasted past the small hours falling past midnight. I fought my lightheadedness and vacant stares for several years, each time it being futile to resist through until the next morning. One year I tried not to focus my eyes on shifting attentions. I resorted to closing them completely. As a result, I found solace in the dark of my eyelids and the muted sounds around the living room. The little frustrations came from images building in the shadows of closed eyelids. Meanwhile the sounds animated the pictures generated from within. As for the house’s echoes, there was no persistent hum of white noise to calm my nerves. Giving in each midnight, I came away with detailed visions for three days. What became a regular expectation every autumn would cloud my sight and wring my hearing every All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, and All Soul’s Day.
After age thirty-two, these peculiarities associated with death and spirits no longer bothered me. Besides, all the relatives that meant something to me were alive in my memory and prayers – vivaciously so. Though dead, they were alive in my daily effects. As a result, by minding my emotional baggage, I lived more with the dead, than with the living. For years, despite all the life that teemed around me, I choose to walk shadows even under the sun. Congregations of shade, though providing emotional kinship, temporarily occupied a place where sunlight lacks. In my life, where I have sat in the dark, is not an entrance into some daemonic world. It can be a cave full of sorrow’s depression and ego wallowing. Then I did not know the importance of grieving over time. At least for me, rushing through the process tended to leave me emotionally stunted and nerves shot through. Though I choose foreboding darkness in its quiet decay, I choose now to be a day walker who is willing to bear sunburn. In retrospect, I may have never left the sun. I am mindful of the hard road it is not to focus on reliving the tangled memories of youth and their crystallization in skin and bone. I learned with my current loss that there is depth of spirit, loss of innocence, and draw to flame of spirit in occult practices and Christian mysticism. With my maternal grandparents’ deaths, I followed through mourning by seeking death in scraps of ancient wisdom and cult practices. Then, keeping company at the edge of the veil developed past habit to a religiosity of practical and personal ethics. I realized that I walk a grey line by observance and silence. While daywalking forces me into confession. This side of the median transition has shade encouraging me to face the dark aspects of myself. In all of this, death’s stagnant breath admonishes caution. I may be consumed somewhere in pitch black. I do not mind. Sounding the depth of my fears always has benefits.
I do not have a familiar spirit. It took years to understand that without yielding to a religious psychosis. The confusion and wonder began in middle school. It was not the dusty tome in the back right corner of the library. That did me in. It was a friend and a listening ear on Saturday nights. I never stayed over friends houses. Mutually we fell asleep on the phone in the kitchen or watched television in the middle of the family room in two separate houses. With some, I would talk until two in the morning, laugh until three and confess until first light. Other times, partially in the dark or alert by a casting bathroom light, I Iistened to my heart and meditated over deep seeded fears. Climbing into bed, finally yielding, I passed back and forth through a gateway of witchcraft that later yielded into Christ. On that journey, I came to know the difference between an indwelling ward, the Holy Spirit and a minion of the Anti-Christ.
My first trial of confusion came my junior year in high school. Over a pot of boiling grits, she said that the Lord blessed our family with contact with the dead. I became silent and immediately grief stricken. I wondered how far away from God our family was. I corrected myself quickly minding three generations of administration and pasturing in the Baptist church. As I remembered more grace on my Dad’s side of the family, I firmly pursed my lips shut. Pursing my lips distorted the talk in my ear of a shade’s religious understanding filled with gossip, fear, and hate. While I stirred the pot, fear continued to creep across my face. I stood in silence to clearly hear and watch every raised eyebrow and strained timber ion my mother’s voice. The thought that gripped my lungs was that if this skill lies within our family, it would never leave. At the core of her talk, I began to object whispering “no” beneath my breath. Fear had me cowering in the open wide of the kitchen floor. I became scared but knew I would eventually adjust. She went on to tell that after Gran’dad’s passing, in a dark night of prayer, she gave it up. All her powers she handed back to her God Jehovah. The ability to sit in concert with the dead and any psychic occasion that hinge pinned on her ancestors, was frightening enough to beg God to relieve the pressure and fright. Following her recounting of the visitation during her mother’s passing, I became even more leery assuming God left us a long time ago. I became so wary of my mind’s terror about death, that mother’s rationality for giving up gifts made sense to my core.
Grating pepper over my bowl of white hominy, I considered giving it all up as well. With every fork full, I considered giving every single blessing back to God. Shortly after settling into a thought of escaping death’s burden, it dawned on me that it would be an insult to God to do so. With another bite of butter and white, little irritations and doubts erupted in my gut that said, “You have a spiritual heritage that will never leave you.” Whatever my ancestors did has benefited our family for thousands of years. Who am I to give that up? What comes with fear and abandon is a comfort and assurance that God will never leave me even if I think myself in apostasy. If so, then no matter what I do, I can return, atone, and pick up the work where I let it lay.
At the time of this conversation, Gran’dad had died about two weeks ago. My family was in turmoil. Each day I saw Mother strain for a break in the tempest. She told me that the night he died mother felt someone wake her in the dark morning. Light barely cascaded through the window when she saw a figure sitting at the foot of the bed. She could tell it was an old man. He sat motionless and staring at her until she recognized her father’s face. She said, “Dad, it’s O.K. Don’t hold on to us. You can go Dad. We’ll be fine.” As the light changed in the corner of the window, the apparition rose then slowly walked out of the room. Mom put on her housecoat and ran downstairs to Gran’dad’s room. After turning on the bedside light and a few calls of his name, she knew he was dead.
After breakfast, we took a quick turn about the property. She recalled that her mother was the same way when her relatives passed. I do not remember accurately, but she said that Gran’ma’s aunts visited her the nights they left this world. Her mother and father’s family may have also visited her in the same manner. The ghosts never speak, but are dressed in particular clothing significant enough to be recognized.
Autumn is when the dream season begins and I always feel the eternal presence of fog come when the journey is a passage between worlds. The fog is a place to lose your dream body and find treasures beyond any concept of monetary values. Where I go in these deep REM nights, followed by lucidity, is to truth on one side of the veil waiting to pass through and clothe into reality. By blood and death’s inheritance, I am next line for some grace and I cannot argue with the weight of spirit in my chest. Four years ago I was visited by two spirits in my dreams, both of whom I can identify clearly. One is my mother and the other is my next-door neighbor. After I fall sleep, I wake in the dream lying on my stomach, face down in the pillow. Shortly after realizing where I was, I felt tapping on my left shoulder that stopped when I shifted my weight over to see who needed my attention. It was my mother in choir wear – black pants and a long-sleeved white top. She looked down at the floor, sullen. I did not ask her, “What’s wrong?”. I simply woke up. I had the same dream about one of my neighbors. How he came in the house, I will never know. That could be a question to answer for another journal review.
For both of these dreams I wondered what their spirits came to say. In retrospect, it felt like an admission of guilt over some wrongdoing. I think of the ancestral spirits that warned my mother and consider it the same admonishment for myself– they are close to death having come to warn me. I doubt that though. Perhaps, they have come to confess or perhaps, they are in need from me. I cannot seem to grip with the possibility of death’s pronouncement. I will think it through another day. Continual crossings of soul travel, blood lineage, and lucid dreams over each other, personally reaffirm my consideration that giving back this ability to see on both sides of the veil would be an insult to my maker and preserver of spirit.
So, in my own dark nights of the soul, I give quiet thanks. I have petitioned the Lord every year and I have come to find my answers lay in learning to sit and grow in personal power. No matter the fright and shock, I learn patience, silence, and stillness. I see death’s pronouncement then as a tool or an extension of my mind and arms. I have never viewed these skills as a glimpse of finality to abandon efforts and throw away little accomplishments like a used tissue. When the visions come without warning and my understanding is limited, I beg for reprieve from sight, sound, and dream. A one-year reprieve came with a change. The Lord gave me other tasks to complete. Now I know the burden may change, but the work continues. This fear and abandon cycle between the Lord and I went on for over twenty years. I finally gained enough clarity to say, “Thank you,” with patience and gratitude. What skills I gave up for lessons of grace in the backyard of my parent’s home developed into a quiet covenant with no expectations. Some days, under the oak tree, I stay silent and listen. I find guidance reveals itself in nature with patience. All this said, but not to forget, prayer in the church sanctuary is of primary use as well. In these past years, I do not feel as burdened or charged with a demanding task. Occasional talks with mother the weeks after Gran’dad’s passing, made it clear I was not the only one in the house inundated with the unseen. Now I do not complain, as yielding to God has granted me comfort with these skills. Christ has removed the initial fright of psychism that plagued my sleep since early youth.
Since this past June, mourning for my Dad’s mother seems a delayed knee jerk reaction. None of it seems real. Not even Dad’s phone call on the head of the month. She died the night of June 1, 2016 before receiving her transfer to the hospital’s hospice. I did not attend the funeral, so writing seems the best place to start to seek forgiveness, process grief, and commit apologetics. I only have a handful of memories of her and I am beginning to tear them apart for bare bones. I do not plan to bury or to pretty up the feelings that arise from these writings. On the contrary, I intend to use them to understand distant family and myself.
It all starts with her daily prayer for me. It lasted until her death, so I assume. Over long distance phone calls, she said she minded me as I was born to connect to her past. When I was young, she would recall an aunt or a cousin I looked like. As I grew, I triggered more memories of herself as a child. In her talk, she made solid blue shadows and fractured memories recall a cogent tale of my childhood before I was aware. Listening to her, I came to know more of my parents than they were willing to offer. According to my father’s mother, my mother and father met when she was a candy striper. She hit on my father while he was in the hospital. Gram said mother went after him with abandon and no care in sight. For the divorce and parental control, there was more drama and tack that occurred than typed onionskin can ever tell.
In the aftermath, I regret not making more phone calls to her tableside in the kitchen over 2,000 miles away. I sit leery of my decision of not taking the seat on the airplane to do my final duty as granddaughter. Still I wonder if these are the things expected to fit the mold of properly mourning. How am I to acknowledge my anguish and fear in the moments that tore me away from that tabletop call for over a year? Can I really cut with a blade that enforces all the remaining will of the dead are right and deserve obeisance if but until they pass over completely – the skin not to touch. I find that realization best resolved during a wake. Because I hold to older traditions, people call me crazy and lame. Should older practices not be preserved and practiced, if not just for the sake of the living not haunting the graveyard for resolve? I… I do not regret my steps. How can I not piece the occasions of my life together with her as a fixed personality to revolve? I will know more of my ancestors, their beginnings, and myself, given time. If I pay close enough attention, maybe I will find the foundations for who I am now.
Gram told me that she prayed for me every day of her life. Who will pray for me now? Old women have powers that do not reside just in their loins. That gift of a prelude to motherhood decays. The act does not last. Power resides in the memory and in blood. Her prayers and love for me, is in the abstract now; it is in my hands now; it is in my speech. Listening to her, the memory skips days, eras, and later fades. Still, there is much more to be said even in rhyme and clapping out a rhythm. Never mind my arguments of her dependence on a cult; spirit resided with her. It may not have been the Holy Spirit, but an air of observance and reaching for the holy always lingered by her blind eyes. Spirit or cult, I accepted her prayers as an elder blessing to the young. Because of her, my walk just might change. I feel the need to seek out her patience and abandon in my aging. Knowing in the end her reticence and reserve, I will take heed of my Father’s words for me. My walk has changed.
Even when dressing her freezer macaroni and cheese with American cheese slices and bacon, she did not lie and confessed of her comfort foods despite the cataracts and sugarless treats. Spirit may have lulled her into calm and comfort when there was nothing else to do for the sugar, for the salt, or for the pacemaker that sat over a triple bypassed heart. Because of her, I will learn to heed. I can take a lesson from how she heard me and how I fought my pride to listen to her. I know. I know. Sue the doctor. Eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains. Get an eye exam once a year. I live in poverty just as much as she lived on a fixed income from her deceased husband. I gather the simple meanings of her death, but the elder lessons I feel far from.
In the last year, when I finally got to her apartment, I began to learn pain. I did not study the sprain your ankle and sit up for the afternoon complaints. I did not school the two o’clock headache from the afternoon meeting irritation. I suffered the oxycotton pain. It is the bleary eyed and cannot focus pain as I stand in front of you forgetting my name type pain. I watched her fixed hips pinned in the roving chair all day, every day I was there. I never heard scuffling with the walker to make it into the bathroom for relief or dressing. I watched pain sacrifice the body every morning while I strained to hear her voice in the dim light. My pain is a joke. My complaints reveal my shame. I owe Hecate time in the field for my meager apologies will never make up for this. The lessons I will eventually learn of her pain are that of an old woman. In college, Hecate used to call me from the lower damp caves. Hecate hones the bone and the eye. Discernment from an 87-year-old woman’s eyes is sharp and a blood prick to the finger. In my youth, distracted by the vista and distance, I was never attentive to what lay in front of my face. For now, I will mind the futility of picking up a magnifying glass to read the Bible with old eyes. I will forego the strain and memorize the gospels as if I was a blind Muslim charged with learning the Koran orally. I will sit in my bedroom window pushing the pane open so I can hear the rainstorms at one in the morning. I will start with Luke and quietly mutter incantations for lightning and ground shaking thunder. No doubt, it will flood and I will quietly accept the blame under an Indian summer sun. I remember the last visit. She brings me asunder over 2,000 miles across state lines. She prays for me the first night. I hear mumbling and my name from the bedroom. I look into her face after twenty years and see no lines, no hatred, and no pain. She is blind and loves me. All the shadows cast are behind me and fall fore as well as behind. An estranged past lingers between every conversation and hug. I have not forgotten. Her occasional glare confuses me as she tells that she has not forgotten the little resentments nor the secrets of divorce. Parents aside, it is just her and I tonight. I talk of magic from my mind to my hands and my eyes, but I speak nothing of family in the daylight. Neither side of the family speaks anything of death.
I romance every notion and motion of atonement, praise, and humility from both sides of my DNA. For weeks I waited long nights to call my Dad to listen to him speak of her death or of my relatives current and gone. I waited to hear his voice just to feel welcomed in the corn-filled shoes, scarred knees, cut finger pads, and burned thumb knuckles of a body I called home. When those nights did come, with him I did not feel lost. Where I felt I was losing presence was in my work. Despite expecting her death after the heart attack in May, I expected her to recover as usual. I felt a skip in my life path and my work suffered for it. Naysayers saw my decline and missed no beat in criticism. All the old slights and misgivings reappeared. I felt eviscerated and lost my balance. For all my naysayers’ talk of the intimations and accusations of lacking relevance, being an archaic throwback, and of shunning blackness as an identity, from Dad’s words, I had a place, history, and a family to welcome me home. My peoples come from churches, doctors, and chiefs. So, Dad tells, our peoples were here before Europeans. Our ancestral clans survived disease, famine, and war.
So, I wait to become an old woman. Excited, sometimes I am in a hurry, but I am learning to slow down. Passages and knowledge of adulthood and childhood are still set before me to learn. So maybe I should not be in such a hurry. I have much magic to learn of life passages. Being patient is all I cling to in the dark hours of the day. What it seems is that I need to learn my grandmother from different perspectives not just that of a child or a granddaughter sitting in patience and respect. Maybe I need benefit to know her as a woman. Maybe, just maybe, I will take on my Dad’s eyes and his memories of her. It will take the keen skills of a griot to approach it through oral histories and writing. I am sure I will have something to speak of the dead within and through a year of mourning. Grandmother’s passing will not be the only lesson of death to begin again to start. I will carve a place out of memories of family, friends, and cemeteries. I have roamed these memories to commit to concrete words and images in order to take permanence in my mind. Lessons to share linger in the coves of brain lobes as well. Desire to know the cycles and age of man craves in the swells of these two hands. Despite all of this, I am not seeking an auspicious beginning. I just want my eyes to see the daylight and motivate the willingness to seize it every day I can.
In my grief’s depression, I wait for the death that will claim my creativity and dower need for sunshine. It will be a death of intimacy with my work. Love and honesty burden my shoulders to bend me as far as I can forward from the years that have honed me. Come that day, I will rent my clothes and forego scrubbing ashes into a freshly shaved head. I will feel bone marrow aching with every rhythm of my heartbeat. I will wait to die and join my passions in cedar or steel if they are not quick enough to catch me by the third night. Agony and ecstasy will have my hand even past death’s ward. I will linger in exquisite anguish for eons married to my drive in brush, pencil, pen, and paint.
©N.A. Jones 2016 All Right Reserved